The word for “character” comes from the Greek term describing an engraving instrument. The picture is of an artist who wears a groove on a metal plate by repeatedly etching the same place with a sharp tool. After repeated stroke, an image begins to take shape.
My character is forged as a set of distinctive marks that, when taken together, draw a portrait of who I really am. Everyone has character, and it can be described: bad or good, shifty or sturdy, sordid or sterling.
Behaviour and character are related, but they are not the same thing. Behaviour is what I do. Character is the person my behaviour has made me into. Behaviour is just one action. “I have behaved badly in that situation.” Character is the sum of my behaviours, public and private, arranged consistently across the entire spectrum of my life. Any behaviour, duplicated and reduplicated, forms a part of my character.
Repeated patterns of behaviour wears a series of grooves that form a portrait of me as a person. The lines of my behaviour over time draw a picture of my character. Sometimes that portrait is compelling and attractive. In other cases it is ugly and repelling. Usually it is a combination of the two. Even great faces have lumps.
A few months ago I found myself sitting in the middle of a river. Fishing waist deep in a cold moving stream in the village is one of my ways of unwinding. It is where I can clear the clutter of a crowded mind and heart.
There was a huge rock in the centre of the river. It was a great place for a lunch break. I crawled up on it, out of the current, and stretched out like a sunbathing turtle. Running my hand across its worn surface I drank in its sun-soaked warmth.
As I looked closer, I noticed the contours of the rock. These were not features of the mineral itself, but grooves worn in it by the water. Year after year the water has poured over and around this obstacle (the rock) in its path. Waves crashing into it, trying to work under it, sometimes boiling over it, always finding a way around it. Although the waves I saw passing by at the very moment make no apparent difference, in time they would leave their mark.
So it is with character. Everything we do, every thought, every choice is a wave with ripple effects. It is easier to see their immediate effect on others than it is to see their consequence on the rock of our own character. Yet if you will look at the contours of your life, you will clearly see the grooves shaped by the pattern of your past.
Every time we make a decision, we cut a groove. When we hold our tongue and practice self-control or when we let them run loose and speak our minds, we are carving our character. When we say yes or no to a reckless temptation, we are signing our names. When you stand up to peer pressure, hold the line of truth, or return kindness for cruelty, you are cutting the pattern of your character. Author Anthony Robbins was right when he said, “It is in your moments of decisions that your destiny is shaped.
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